Whenever I'm in the US, someone asks, "Do you miss Cambodia?" The answer is usually simple: No, I don't. I would miss it if I knew I were never coming back... I eventually miss certain aspects... but usually my times in the US are short enough and seldom enough that I'm too busy soaking up all the things (and people!) I've missed about America.
On this trip, I'm actually expecting to miss several things about Cambodia, such as...
Blissful ignorance of politics. There are plenty of shenanigans around here (try googling "Cambodia news") but little encouragement for anyone to discuss or critique them. I basically never see any news here unless I go online and seek it out, which is embarrassingly rare. It's harder to hide in America. I'm a big fan of democracy and free speech, but they sure are messy. The primaries were not a "primary" reason for my trip timing.
The simplicity and focus of Christmas. Churches here have a big joyous celebration and outreach, and malls play some carols and too many renditions of "Last Christmas." Some kids wear Santa hats to school on the 25th, but it's a pretty normal day. I know almost no Khmer who exchange presents, though some kids receive shoe boxes via Operation Christmas Child. I'm so excited for family togetherness and way too many cookies and a real tree and the other Christmas traditions I've missed, but in Cambodia, missing those things always takes me back to Jesus.
The weather. Don't get me wrong, I'm delighted to catch a bit of fall and winter... I love having four seasons and a break from sweating. But yesterday it got down to 80, and I started shivering. My system is in for a shock in PA. Cambodia's nicest (coolest) weather comes in December and January, and by my return in mid-February the temps will probably be climbing again into the inferno that is March through May. I wouldn't mind some "happy medium" days.
The longer I live here in Cambo, the more items drift from "major irritation" to "barely noticeable." The barking dogs on my street, the constantly wet bathroom floor, the smell of fish and meat at the market, the flow of traffic... they rarely feel stressful anymore. There's a lot that I enjoy about Cambodian culture. I'm in a decent place emotionally, relatively well-rested, not planning to collapse onto the plane in a puddle of tears like I have after some school years. However, as my teammates Jeannie and Pat put it, knowing I'm about to leave always makes me feel a bit "crispy," over-toasted by Cambodia's constant sensory input. It sparks my internal tally of reasons I want a break from here.
Here are a few things I can guarantee I will NOT miss:
Mosquitoes. Need I say more?
Drunk karaoke wafting through my window. PSA: Alcohol may improve your confidence, but not your vocal abilities. And though maxing out the amp volume may distract your friends from noticing your voice quality, it will achieve no such miracles for the neighbors in a four-block vicinity. Many Cambodians have lovely voices. But they are not the only ones who belt out ballads when I'm trying to work or sleep. Or blog. (Creepy... it's like I summoned them by writing this paragraph!)
Fumes and rays. Some days, driving my moto around town feels like skin cancer and lung cancer are competing to see which can take me out first. (Assuming other drivers don't.) Sunscreen, long sleeves, a stylish purple air mask, and my helmet's tinted visor can't defeat the black clouds of hot exhaust billowing at me from the truck in front of me at the red light, or the blinding sun that reflects off the concrete roads and buildings to hit me every which way at once. I'm looking forward to a few months of errands that don't leave me dusty, sweaty, red-faced, and holding my breath.
|Look what one year of driving, not even daily, has done to the sleeves.|
Mockery. Recently I went for a massage. I was a paying customer; her job was literally to make me happy. But after asking my age and marital status, she snickered at my reply the way I would snicker if someone asked me to sign a petition to save the endangered unicorns. I wish I could say she was unique. At least she didn't press the conversation like others have. Sometimes this lands in the "totally fine now" category. Sometimes it doesn't.
Monocultural people sometimes think countries are on a spectrum of politeness. Is Cambodia more or less polite than America? The answer is no. Cambodian culture has much higher standards of politeness than American culture in some regards, and much lower in others. Comments and questions about people's marital status, number of children, weight, skin color, and salary are considered harmless here. In fact, to demonstrate in February that they've missed me, I'm sure many of my friends will say things like, "You've gained weight" or "You're paler than before." On the other hand, as mentioned above, they're very tolerant of karaoke singers with mediocre voices. They hardly ever show anger or road rage. And in helping me prepare my recent teacher training seminars, my tutor wouldn't let me address the teachers as plain old "you," even though they were younger than me and had less training. In respect for their title and position, I had to say "lokru nakru" (Mr. Teacher and Ms. Teacher) every time I addressed the group. Definitions of politeness vary widely across cultures, and while I've come a long way in accepting this reality, it's still nice occasionally to be somewhere that the rules feel intuitive.
I'm hopeful that by February, I'll be reinvigorated and ready for these challenges again. None of them are new; none of them are insurmountable; none of them make me want to scream (anymore... most days...). But I'm glad to have a break from them. And I might need to remind myself of them when I'm in Pennsylvania with nosebleeds and blue fingers, surrounded by "Christmas-y" materialism and political vitriol, and haven't seen the sun in days.
Stumped for questions when I visit you? Don't just ask IF I miss Cambodia... ask WHAT I'm missing (or not!) that day.